Deborah Maguire

Assistant Branch Secretary of SSAFA Gloucestershire

Deborah Maguire

Assistant Branch Secretary of SSAFA Gloucestershire

As well as running her own companies, Deborah Maguire has volunteered for SSAFA for four years. Starting as a caseworker, she soon became a Divisional Secretary and is now uses her skills as a Branch Assistant Secretary, helping people across Gloucestershire. She explains she was inspired to volunteer because of the support she was given by military charities as a child.

I always had SSAFA in the back of my mind

“I always wanted to volunteer for something, but not the typical charity shop or street fundraising. It's just not my thing. My background is in management and administration and I wanted to use my skills. So, when I thought 'Right, well I've got a bit of spare capacity now’ I thought about what I could do, and I always had SSAFA in the back of my mind, so I contacted the branch.

“My dad died when I was only ten-years-old and left behind five young children. He’d done National Service and we were helped by military charities when my mum became a widow. It always stuck in my mind that we used to get these food parcels and monetary help. We were poor, and that made a huge difference to our lives.

“I also have friends who are veterans, and as a child I stayed in Blackpool near a place which housed Second World War veterans and we’d play cricket with them and spend time with them, so I have always been aware of our services and the sacrifices people made for us.

“I was taken on as a caseworker and then when the Divisional Secretary for Cheltenham and the Cotswolds moved to the north, I was asked if I would take on the role, and then last year I took on the Branch Assistant Secretary post, where I carry out casework and support other caseworkers too. I love it! I do a bit of everything across the board. I sit on the executive committee and I always have plenty to say to get the best for the branch and clients. I love being able to help people, I'm a very hands-on person and I like being able to see the results of the work I put in.”

The need in the area is incredibly varied

“We have a lot of military bases in our area, from Brize Norton, GCHQ, the HQ of the SAS and Imjin Barracks. Often once service personnel retire they settle in the areas they served, and so we have many veterans in the area too. Recently, our branch worked on a project with Age UK which identified a lot of elderly veterans in the area who needed our support, but the need in the area is incredibly varied.

“At the moment I’m working on six cases. Some cases might take a year, other cases might be open and shut and might only take 3 months. Each case is different, and so is the journey you go through from the first time you speak to a client who needs help, to gathering all the paperwork and applying for funding, to securing the help and completing it.

“Just this morning I have been working on cases from a supporting a young former Royal Marine who has recently had a lower limb amputation, to supporting an elderly veteran who has an unsuitable living environment due to hoarding, to supporting a family following a marriage breakdown. You really have to be prepared for anything.

“Due to coronavirus we are facing new challenges too. We’ve had to change the way we work, and we are being contacted by people who are in debt or rent arrears because they’ve lost jobs during the pandemic. We’re working remotely to support them, but we’re managing.

“I currently support the wife of a D-Day veteran who received the Légion d'honneur. They have been together for 67 years and he went into a care home ten days before lockdown, so it was just awful for them. I’ve been helping her with shopping and taking to her to appointments and I do it gladly. They are people that helped us when we needed it, so I would walk over hot coals for people like them. They deserve every last bit of my energy. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn't for him.”

You can literally change someone’s life

“There are several qualities I have that make me able to do this volunteer role well. First and foremost, I'm like a dog with a bone, a Jack Russell, I don’t stop until I get what I need! I'm very organised, and my project management and people management experience help. I’ve done everything in my career from working in a car spraying paint factory to working in the oil industry, running businesses, managing staff and working with clients worldwide. And on the other hand, I came from a poor family in Manchester and so understand hardship and the difference a little help can make to a person’s life. So, I can deal with people of every level, understand our clients and help them with their needs.

“There isn’t any specific type of person that makes the perfect SSAFA volunteer. We've got quite a diverse lot which as a team is so important. But there are core things you need: compassion for other people, good organisational skills, good computer skills, and a willingness to help.

“There's no one-size-fits-all, but we also need people that don’t quit when things are tough because some cases are difficult, and you can’t just throw in the towel. A lot of the time now, we're the fourth emergency service, going into situations where clients have dementia or have other mental health and medical needs, so you need to be robust. But it’s important to know that you are never alone either, as the Branch will support you.

“I remember my second case. I was assured it would be fairly straightforward, a 64-year-old veteran just leaving hospital after an amputation needed a wheelchair to get around his flat. But when I got there, I was met with a seven stone man in crisis who needed much more support. His case lasted a year, but in the end, I secured him a mobility scooter, a riser recliner chair, a profiling bed and a redecoration and re-carpeting of his flat. I also supported him through the process of getting his prosthetic and reaching normality in his life, to the stage where he is back working behind a bar. It was hard, but it was amazing to see that change. You have to dig in and see something through if you really want to make that kind of difference.”

“We've never got enough volunteers. Never. You know, we've got a small waiting list of cases now. But if people can read this and recognise the passion I have for this role and this charity, I know they would want to do it too. It adds so much value to my life. There’s and immense amount of satisfaction in seeing that you have literally or can literally change somebody's life, and I think that's it in a nutshell.

“Nobody goes into it for self-gratification, but that is what you get out of it. I get far more out of it than ever I put into it.”